Creating environments that optimize physical and psychological health and well being

“The intent of the Health and Happiness Petal is to focus on the most important environmental conditions that must be present to create robust, healthy spaces, rather than to address all of the potential ways that an interior environment could be compromised.” International Living Future Institute

The effects of a building’s design on its occupants’ health and happiness can be difficult to quantify. So many factors in our daily lives impact both – from diet and exercise to relationships and career status. However, multiple studies have shown that having access to fresh and toxin-free air, as well as visual and physical access to nature can provide significant benefits to building occupants. Based on these findings, the Health & Happiness Petal asks Living Building Challenge projects to implement factors proven to contribute to these benefits.

The Health & Happiness Petal has three requirements, called Imperatives: Civilized Environment, Healthy Interior Environment, and Biophilic Environment.

Civilized Environment: Connection to Fresh Air and Daylight

According to the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the Civilized Environment Imperative requires that “every regularly occupied space must have operable windows that provide access to fresh air and daylight.” Regularly occupied spaces are “those that are used frequently, for extended periods of time, or that contain one or more staffed workstations.”

When indoors, humans are naturally drawn to spaces with views of the outdoors and access to fresh air. This intuitive draw is supported by science; multiple studies have shown that access to fresh air and daylight greatly increase building users’ productivity and mental and physical health. The Living Building Challenge recognizes the effects of daylight and fresh air. It requires that all regularly occupied spaces do the following:

  • Provide daylighting appropriate for use through at least one window wall (at least 10% glazed) per space,
  • Allow occupant control of fresh air and tangible access to the outdoors,
  • Locate staffed workstations within 30 feet of operable windows, and
  • Ensure nearby partitions to workstations are no taller than 3’7” (i.e., don’t block line-of-sight to windows when seated).

Like all other Imperatives in the Living Building Challenge, Civilized Environment calculations affect and are effected by other Petals and Imperatives. For Civilized Environment, Energy Petal calculations are crucial. The amount of windows/daylight can increase the temperature in a space and require additional cooling power. In addition, letting in outside air can increase or decrease the temperature, putting additional stress on heating/cooling systems to maintain the building’s standard temperature (setpoints).

The Kendeda Building addresses this Imperative by providing operable windows in classrooms, offices, and the auditorium. Large folding glass doors in the maker space are operable during times when humidity, temperature, and pollen count are ideal. These large windows and doors also provide a visual connection to the Eco-Commons, a ring of greenspace around Georgia Tech’s campus. Additionally, the team studied the ideal balance of daylight and light fixtures to reduce glare, improve views, and find the correct balance of direct and ambient lighting in all spaces.

An early site plan of The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design shows an expanse of future greenspace that can be seen from multiple views inside the building.


Healthy Interior Environment: Eliminating Indoor Pollutants

We spend 90–95% percent of our time indoors, and therefore, the quality of the indoor air we breathe can have significant impacts on our health. Fortunately, there are many proactive steps we can take to prevent toxins from entering the air and to improve air quality in buildings.

In order to meet the air quality requirements of the Healthy Interior Environment Imperative, the Living Building Challenge asks teams to put together a Healthy Indoor Environment Plan. The plan should focus on preventing smoking, preventing emissions of toxic chemicals, preventing outdoor contaminants from entering the space, and ensuring that the air in the building is frequently circulating and tested for potential contaminants.

The Healthy Indoor Environment Plan must include the following requirements:

  • Evidence of a no-smoking policy and information on how occupants and visitors are informed about the policy
  • A cleaning product list: projects must use cleaning products that comply with the EPA Safer Choice standard or an international equivalent standard
  • HVAC drawings and a statement that confirm compliance with ASHRAE 62, a standard that defines appropriate ventilation rates
  • A list of interior building products that have the potential to emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and documentation demonstrating compliance with CDPH v1.1-2010 or equivalent standard
  • Results from indoor air quality (IAQ) tests taken both pre- and post- occupancy
  • Documentation showing compliance with entryway mat requirements and cleaning requirements for entryway mats
  • Documentation of functioning, permanently installed systems measuring carbon dioxide (Co2), temperature, and humidity

The Kendeda Building’s design addresses these strategies in a few key ways. One component is using a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) to ensure the building greatly exceeds the required amount of outside or fresh air circulated to building occupants. Additionally, the project has dedicated exhaust for the catering, bathrooms, and janitorial areas to ensure the air in these spaces does not recirculate through the building. Walk-off mats at doors prevent dust, debris, and pollutants from entering. Finally, selection of building materials, detailed in the Materials Petal write-up, can greatly impact air quality. By using fewer materials, natural materials (like wood), low VOC finishes, and materials with no or greatly reduced coatings/adhesives, the project design ensures that emissions traditionally coming from building materials are greatly lowered.

What happens once the building opens also affects this Imperative. Georgia Tech Facilities Management has a long history of incorporating green cleaning practices. For The Kendeda Building, the custodial services team has taken time to explore the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, inventory cleaning products used and evaluate them for Living Building Challenge compliance, discontinue use of those that do not meet the standards of The Kendeda Building, and update the green cleaning manual to reflect these changes. The design of the wetland system, the project’s composting requirements, and the project’s composting toilets have started valuable conversations about cleaning, waste, and their interactions with other building systems.


Biophilic Environment: Celebrating our Connection to Nature through Design

Biophilia is the innate draw that humans have to nature and other living organisms. If you have ever been on a walk in the woods or sat on a park bench on a nice day, you know the feelings of calm and connectivity that nature can bring. Biophilic design recognizes that our buildings can achieve harmony between the indoors and outdoors.  

Through the six categories of biophilic design (environmental features, natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, light and space, place-based relationships, and evolved human-nature relationships) and their corresponding design elements – like incorporating natural light and botanical motifs – project teams can bring elements of the outdoors inside and blend the boundaries between the two.

Project teams must spend at least eight hours in exploration of biophilic design and how their project can incorporate its elements in a way that recognizes the culture and spirit of the place in which they build. The resulting Biophilic Framework and Plan must include:

  • Any relevant cultural ecological and climatic studies,
  • Agenda, notes, and resulting framework from the biophilia exploration day/s; and
  • Demonstration of the implementation of the Biophilic Framework in the project.

Georgia Tech’s Biophilia Charrette took place over two days in September of 2016. Participants explored how the unique site, culture, and natural history of the site could influence building design. As a result of the charrette and other discussions, the Kendeda Building’s exposed wood helps provide a visual connection to the natural world. Large windows and glass walls on the west side of the building provide a visual connection to future greenspace (Eco-Commons), and a rooftop garden with apiaries (beehives), pollinator plants, and blueberry bushes provides an area of respite.

Participants in the Biophilic Design Charrette visit the future site of The Kendeda Building.